Painting Is Chemistry
A well kept secret of great painters is that their job eventually turns into a mix of chemistry, cooking, and trial and error science when they begin to make their own paint. Painters and other artists will spend decades coming up with the perfect recipe for the perfect paint that is able to convey story, emotion, color, or light in just the right way to make their art unique, interesting, and overall better.
Not all master painters make their own paint. Some will stick to what they know works well enough and exploit the substance in new and interesting ways. Or simply choose the best path to market the art to the masses. However, one might ask, if the painter is truly dedicated to the craft and it consumes their being, wouldn’t they eventually dig into how the materials were made? I haven’t even talked about brushes 😅
A few years ago at the large software engineering org I worked in there was a well known general feeling that the platforms team were ivory tower elite engineers. That their job was nearly unattainable to the feature team engineers. After all, they not only know how to write code, they can write code that engineers use to write code. They know how to make paint.
Needless to say, the org didn’t like the “ivory tower” mentality. It made feature team engineers feel like they were stuck and had no future on the team. Like the best would need to “graduate” to a platform team or risk career stagnation. So we pushed back against the concept and began to build a culture where you could be a great engineer on any team and platforms teams were just like any other.
But there was one problem with this approach: there was a hint of truth to the idea of graduating to a platforms team. It’s not so much about the team, but about the idea of an engineer coming to a point in their career where they want to make their own paint. They have the knowledge and skill to push the tooling to the next level and multiply their impact and to give back to other engineers.
The Next Generation of Painters
Senior engineers on feature development teams need not leave their team to begin making their own paint. In fact, there’s opportunity to build a better connection between feature teams and platforms teams. Senior engineers can understand and contribute to feature team development, and help them better